One Recipe, Endless Uses

Last week, a friend called asking me to send her “That Recipe!” Of course I was puzzled, but it didn’t take long to figure out what she was talking about when she mentioned,  “homemade Biscuits with freezer jam.” Apparently, I served that for breakfast the last time she visited.

photo credit: flouronmyface.com

photo credit: flouronmyface.com

That Recipe is my Master Mix. The recipe below makes a lot, and keeps really well. Because it contains dry milk, all you add at baking time is water. And while it makes fabulous biscuits, it’s an all-purpose mix to make everything from dumplings to coffee cake and shortcake.

This mix makes a lovely addition to a Biscuits and Jam gift basket. Simply package a supply of Master Mix in a tightly covered container or bag, adding a tag that describes the contents. A nice idea would be to include the following options for how your recipient can use its contents. Your friend or loved one will probably appreciate the Master Mix recipe as well.

Refinancing Credit-Card Debt Can Get Tricky

Dear Mary: What do you think about the idea of refinancing my credit-card debt with a loan from one of the peer-to-peer lenders out there? It seems like a good idea to me, but I don’t know that much about it. I’d really like to know what you think of this. Thanks. Tom

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Dear Tom: First, I want to make sure you are talking about P2P (peer-to-peer) loans, NOT payday loans (they have NOTHING in common other than both start with the letter P). I am a huge fan of the idea you mention using a P2P loan (NOT payday), but with a few very strong cautions!

Basically, P2P lending offers a fixed-rate, simple interest, fully-amortized unsecured loan with which a person can, as you state, refinance their credit-card debt by taking the proceeds and paying off those accounts.

The interesting thing is that P2P loans offer rates that are often much lower than the variable rates on most credit cards, but only to folks with good credit, verifiable income and reasonable debt-to-income ratios who can qualify. So far, so good!

But it can get tricky. In fact, without knowing what you’re doing it would be like walking though a minefield blindfolded. There are lots of ways you could blow yourself up. For example, let’s say you get a P2P loan, but then don’t handle those paid-off accounts well. You could end up with double the trouble if you run your credit-card accounts back up—because you have the P2P loan as well. That’s only one of the things that could go wrong.

I suggest you not even think about tip-toeing into the world of peer-to-peer borrowing until you get some help.

Secrets of a Cheapskate Gardener

I love a beautiful yard, but I hate spending money to get it that way which explains why I am always looking for do-it-yourself cheap ways to kill weeds, grow flowers and feed lawns.

I have come across some very clever tips and tricks, not the least of which is to reclassify the dandelion as a low-maintenance, hardy ground cover!

DANDELIONS

While you ponder that suggestion, take a look at these clever ideas to make your own landscape supplies.

LAWN FOOD: Mix four pounds magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) with a bag of your favorite lawn food that covers 2,500 sq. ft. Now feed your lawn only half the amount of this mixture as recommended on the lawn food bag You’ll save a lot of money because you’ll be using less than half the normal amount of fertilizer and this formulation cuts down on the nitrogen which makes your lawn grow so fast. You’ll have the wonderful deep-green color, better root structure and you won’t have to mow as often.

LAWN SNACK: Try this on your lawn every three weeks during the summer. (With every third snack, add 1/2 cup clear corn syrup or molasses to the mixture.)

Pour the beer and shampoo (and corn syrup when it’s the third snack) into a 20-gallon hose-end sprayer jar; fill up the jar with ammonia and apply, following the instructions on the hose-end sprayer. You’re going to have very happy grass.

Insurance Coverage You Absolutely Don’t Need

Some kinds of insurance are necessary. The following, however, may not only be unnecessary but downright ridiculous.

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ACCIDENTAL DEATH INSURANCE. Why pay extra for this kind of insurance? Statistically, it is highly unlikely you will die in an accident and even if you do the basic life insurance you carry should be sufficient.

CHILD LIFE INSURANCE. Life insurance should be carried only to the extent that others depend upon the income of the insured, whose early demise will leave those people financially destitute. Children don’t fall into this category unless, of course, your kid is Griffin Gluck. Insuring the lives of children is unnecessary and does not guarantee insurability when the child reaches adulthood as some agents would like you to believe. Actuarially speaking, the chances that your child will die in childhood, leaving you with big burial costs are so small, they’re barely worth talking about and a risk parents should agree to self-insure

TRAVEL INSURANCE. Never purchase this kind of insurance before taking a trip. If in the unlikely event the plane crashes or ship sinks, your family is going to sue. This kind of last minute insurance is costly and a major rip-off. Ditto for trip cancellation insurance.

Beat the Clutter Improve Your Life

Getting organized is like dieting. Everyone knows how to do it. The problem is getting around to it and then maintaining the results.

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A few years ago, when we remodeled our kitchen I emptied every cupboard and drawer. When it was time to put everything back, I decided to put things away as I used them. I quickly realized why it was such a problem to keep the kitchen neat and tidy. We had too much stuff we never used. Getting rid of the unused left so much space to organize the essentials.

Face it. If you don’t have enough closet, drawer and storage space to comfortably handle your possessions, you probably own to many things. Give away, pare down let your rooms closets and drawers appear serene and controlled–kept.

There’s no single “right” way to organize your possessions and home. Organization must fit your style, your energy and your schedule. Find a system that functions best for you and your family.

No matter the way you do it, let this be your mantra: Eliminate and concentrate.

World-Class Gourmet Pasta on a Shoestring

A popular restaurant in West Hollywood, Calif., Hugo’s, has been critically acclaimed for one of its menu items, “Pasta Mama.” The first time I heard about it and what’s in it, I thought it was a bit odd. Pasta with eggs? I couldn’t imagine what would prompt people to drive many miles to get it. But they do, saying, it’s the best pasta they’ve ever eaten.

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I had to try it, and as you might imagine, I love it. I would describe it to you here, but it’s indescribable—indescribably delicious, that is. But I don’t drive the 40 miles to Hugo’s to pay $12.25 (plus tax and tip) for this dish. Instead I make it myself, from scratch. What a wonderful, simply satisfying dinner—or breakfast—entree.

Pasta Mama takes all of about 10 minutes start to finish and feeds two for a total cost of about $1.50. At that price you have very little to lose if you try it and don’t like it, and chances are really good that you’ll love it. In fact, I won’t be surprised to hear that you’ve added Pasta Mama to your family’s list of favorite meals. Serve it once a week and your grocery budget will love you.

Help! My Fine Linens Have Rust Stains

Dear Mary: Please advise how to remove rust spots from white cutwork linen pieces. I have no idea where these came from but would love to remove them. Thanks. Frieda H., California

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Dear Frieda: Provided these are washable, soak the spot with lemon juice then work table salt into the spot. Set it out in the sun for a few hours. Brush the salt away. If any stain remains, repeat. Once the stain is gone, launder as usual.

Dear Mary: I can’t keep lettuce in my refrigerator for more than two days without it turning rusty. I’ve tried everything, Tupperware containers, washing and putting paper towels in bag with it, not washing until using. Even though the date on the package is good for at least 5 days after opening I end up throwing it away before that time. Am I the only one who has this problem? Pat

Dear Pat:  “Rust” on lettuce leaves is harmless. It develops from the natural breakdown process in the cells once it is harvested and isn’t rust at all, as we think of it. This rust-color indicates old lettuce. If this is happening on dated package greens, return it to the store for a refund. When selecting head lettuce, look at the “stem” area where the head was cut from the stalk. If it is bright white, you know it’s very fresh. If it is rust color, it’s getting quite old. Select the head that’s closest to white for your freshest choice.

Backpacks That Wear Well and Look Good, Too

Have a messy outdoor job you need to tackle? How about those crummy, cheap backpacks that don’t even last through the school year? Today your fellow readers have tips for how to deal with those annoying problems and so much more!

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BACKPACK SOURCE. My sons had terrible problems with backpacks. Even the expensive ones would not last an entire school season. Then one day we went into the Army/Navy surplus store. We found military backpacks (rucksacks) that wore like iron! In fact, the boys carried them for years—all the way through high school. And, they thought they were very cool. Carole

TRASHY APRON. If you have a particularly dirty job to do like cleaning the outdoor grill, taking down dirty window screens or hosing down the patio furniture before storing away for winter, make yourself a disposable apron: Take a large garbage bag, cut holes for your head and arms and slip it over your clothes. You may look a little weird, but you’ll protect your clothes and save yourself a lot of time and trouble later. Roy

STORAGE DESIGN. If your storage space is limited and you have to stack several boxes on top of each other, make a diagram on an index card and keep it in a handy place. When you go to look for something you’ll know exactly where it is. Store items towards the front that you’re more likely to use often with less-used items at the back. Lucille